Clashes between federal agents and gunmen in the western Mexican state of Michoacan left four suspected cartel hit men dead and three police wounded, the Public Safety Secretariat said in a statement.

The gun battles took place Thursday in the towns of Apatzingan - where the deaths occurred -, Uruapan and Maravatio.

A semitrailer, a truck and other vehicles were set on fire on three of the five highways leading out of Morelia, the state capital, apparently to delay the arrival of police reinforcements to the scenes of the clashes, sources with the Michoacan Attorney General's Office told Efe.

Another vehicle also was set ablaze in the city itself.

Michoacan is home to the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel, which has been badly weakened by the capture or death of its top leaders and the creation of a splinter group known as Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar). The four slain gunmen were members of that latter gang, the secretariat said.

La Familia kingpin Jesus "El Chango" Mendez, who had been leading a brutal war against Los Caballeros Templarios for control of smuggling routes in Michoacan, was captured two weeks ago.

Los Caballeros Templarios are led by Servando "La Tuta" Gomez and Enrique "La Chiva" Plancarte.

Michoacan, which has an extensive Pacific coast line and is home to clandestine marijuana and opium poppy fields, is a key entry point for South American cocaine and chemicals used to manufacture synthetic drugs at laboratories tucked away in the mountains.

These illegal narcotics are then smuggled via the Pacific corridor into the United States, the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs.

Elsewhere, five people were shot dead Thursday at a bar in the northern Mexican city of Chihuahua by a group of suspected cartel enforcers who burst into the establishment, municipal police spokespersons said.

According to the preliminary information, the assailants traveling in two vehicles arrived shortly before midnight at the establishment located on the city's south side and fired at those inside, killing three waitresses and two male customers.

A police spokesman told Efe that the gunmen apparently went to the bar to kill the two men, one of whom was in a wheelchair, but also killed the three women after ordering them to lie on the ground.

Spent shells from R-15 assault rifles and 9mm pistols were found at the scene, the spokespersons said.

Several similar attacks have been carried out in recent months at bars and other nightspots in Mexico, typically when the establishments were filled with customers.

The northern state of Chihuahua, where this latest crime occurred, has accounted for approximately 30 percent of the more than 40,000 drug-related killings nationwide since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon launched a federal offensive against the nation's heavily armed, well-funded cartels.

More than 8,500 people have been killed over those four-and-a-half years just in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, also located in Chihuahua state.